There's no shortage of vintage advertisements that look awful today because they were made when minstrel shows were the height of entertainment and women were viewed as pieces of furniture that spit out dinner and sex. But a select few ad campaigns aged badly for reasons that not even the most cynical pundit could have predicted. Look at how ...

A FedEx Ad Featured The Comedy Gold Of Steve Irwin Dying

In a 2000 FedEx spot, Steve Irwin is bitten by a snake, but he's not worried because he's having the appropriate antivenin shipped over by FedEx. Then he's informed that they went with a competitor instead, whereupon he promptly dies, either because of the delay or from a brand-loyalty-induced outrage.

This could have been way worse; Irwin could have been stabbed by a stingray. It's still not comfortable to watch. Still, the ad never made much sense to begin with, given that Irwin's response to being bitten by what he says is the world's deadliest animal is to start talking about how great FedEx is. But it took on a dark irony when he was indeed killed by an animal in 2006. At least FedEx could present themselves as forward-thinking?

Lance Armstrong Boldly Asked Consumers "What Am I On?"

In 2001, Lance Armstrong was dominating bike racing thanks to good old-fashioned gumption and definitely nothing else. To celebrate his completely legitimate achievements, Nike ran an ad wherein Armstrong spits out pithy phrases like "This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it" and "I can push it, study it, and tweak it" to mock critics who dared imply that innocent bicycle boy might not be entirely on the level.

He then says, "Everybody wants to know what I'm on," before answering with a call to action: "I'm on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?" We guess it wouldn't have been as catchy if he said, "I'm on my bike busting my ass six hours a day, and also a shit-ton of human growth hormone! You should try it!"

A Snickers Commercial Joked About A Football Concussion

In the '90s, concussions in football were taken so seriously that the NFL put a rheumatologist in charge of studying them. That's the environment for this 1996 Snickers commercial, which features a player who, after taking a big hit, is put on the sideline because he now thinks he's Batman. And that's the joke. The inherent hilarity of head trauma has given him plenty of time to enjoy a mediocre chocolate bar.

Nowadays, of course, we know much more about the link between football, concussions, and long-term brain damage, and the NFL spends millions of dollars a year pretending to take it seriously.

Humble Oil Bragged About Melting Glaciers

In 1962, Humble Oil wanted to give consumers a sense of how much energy they were giving the world. They needed an eye-catching analogy. And, well, they got one.

EACH DAY HUMBLE SUPPLLES ENOUCHENERCY TO MELT 7 MILLION TONS OF GLACIER! HUMBLE ENco Amearinate
Humble Oil
"Here, we'll prove it. Everybody watch for the next 50 years."

They weren't intentionally melting 7 million tons of glacier a day, because they weren't a sponsor for the Legion of Doom. But "Let's base our marketing around the shrinking of the ice caps!" sure looks arrogant in hindsight. Luckily, Humble realized they were going against their brand name and, uh, rebranded as Exxon. They then became one of the most aggressive lobbyists against climate change regulation.

The Duchess Of York Bragged About Outrunning The Paparazzi Before Diana Was Killed

In 1997, Sarah Ferguson was recently divorced from Prince Andrew and in need of money. As part of her burgeoning business empire, she became a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. One ad featured Ferguson commenting that losing weight was "Harder than outrunning the paparazzi."

IT'S HARDER THAN outrunning the paparazzi. IT'S HARDER THAN having a thinner mother. IT'S HARDER THAN seeing yourself in a three-way mirror.
Weight Watchers
Hell of a lot safer, though.

It was a lighthearted remark about the intense public scrutiny faced by members of the Royal Family ... right up until her former sister-in-law, Diana, was killed in a car crash that was blamed on overzealous paparazzi. The ad was understandably stopped, but not before thousands of flyers featuring the slogan had already been sent out across America. But at least that was the last big scandal the royal family ever faced.

Union Carbide Predicts Its Own Deadly Disaster

In 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide factory leaked toxic gas on the people of Bhopal, India, killing an estimated 15,000, injuring over 500,000 more, and becoming a likely suspect for the birth defects that still plague the region. It was one of the most devastating industrial accidents in history, and Union Carbide accidentally foreshadowed it in a 1962 ad.

arlh Seiernee help build India as HS Ous ile puetke. Tiale Atr triata foe atal Lin eis watels UNION HAND Tst oe CARBIDE
Union Carbide
We guess the chemical pouring over a million fetuses would've been too much of a downer to run in National Geographic.

Putting aside the patronizing racism of a giant white hand swooping in to save India, it all sounds like a supervillain statement. Union Carbide says they'll help build "a new India," and will have "a hand in things to come." They might as well have added "The prophecy will come to pass," but instead it says, "India needs the technical knowledge of the western world." We guess that probably did come in handy during the cleanup efforts necessitated by their corporate malfeasance.

Gary Glitter Hocked British Rail's "Young Person" Railcard

In a late '80s attempt to increase ridership, British Rail raised the upper age limit for their cheaper Young Persons Railcard from 23 to 25. And to promote this savings bonanza, they turned to Gary Glitter.

The things people do to keep hold of their Young Persons Railcard. HYDRA + Sin Renenio nn Young PersonsRalcard
British Rail
"Now for this photo, give us a BIG smile. Really try to envision all the kids this is going to help."

Today, Glitter is best-known for writing a song played in every sporting venue on the planet, going to jail for committing a variety of sex crimes against underage victims, and still having that song commonly played for some reason. Obviously, they couldn't have known at the time, but it's possible that Glitter may have agreed to the "Pretend to be young again" ad campaign a little too easily.

The Justice League Teamed Up With Jared Fogle

In 2011, DC gave its least discerning comic book fans Subway Presents: Justice League. Over four installments, the Justice League teamed up with "Famous Fans" -- that is, celebrities with Subway endorsement deals. This included Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, boxer Laila Ali, and of course, the equally athletic Jared Fogle. In the fourth episode of this thrilling series, we see Jared and Ali wearing Subway shirts while spontaneously deciding to go to "Subway Restaurants" for lunch, because the comic hasn't decided whether they're employees or customers.

DONT LEr's cO TO KCNOUN ABOUT 4BBWAYO REGTAURANTS. YOU BUT IM BUT WE BETTER HRRY IE HUNERY. WP'RE ONG TO BLRAT THE LUNCM CROWD. LALLA LAILA All JAREO
DC Comics
"For his face, could you draw him in a way that looks friendly and innocent today, but will look like a menacing leer in the future?"

Then, of course, evil robots show up. Ali throws punches while Jared pushes civilians to safety. If you look closely, you may be able to spot some subtle product endorsement.

WHOA! HOWD YOU KR RASSHE DO THAT? BY EATING SUBWAYE SANDWICHES AND MY ACTIVE AND FIT LIFESTYLE, OF COURSE I'M 245 POUNDS LIGHTER AND EVEN RAN A MARATH
DC Comics
"No, I mean how'd you eat Subway every day for years without deciding death was easier?"

Jared then helps take down the supervillain Manhunter, who we guess works for Quiznos, by dumping the contents of a cement truck on him. (Presumably he's a cement expert because of all the Subway sauces he's eaten.) Anyway, Superman thanks Jared and shakes his hand while Wonder Woman looks on in admiration, an image that's aged like fine dogshit.

THANCG FOG LENDine THE 4AM2 A MELPN 404 FOG ALL MAND. of you SOUAY
DC Comics
"Hey, can your x-ray vision read what's on a hard drive? Asking for a friend."

Jared and Ali finally head to Subway, although Ali says "Only if you're buying," which seems like a questionable way to advertise food that's supposed to be cheap and desirable. And then, with a stomach full of nutritious and energizing ingredients, Jared hops online to solicit 14-year-olds (not depicted, but implied).

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.

For more, check out 8 Reasons Advertising Doesn't Work Anymore:


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